To bobbitt: short for to depenistrate

WHEN Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband's penis last June, little could she have known that her behaviour might bring her immortality, thanks to the dictionaries of the English-speaking world, in much the same manner as another famous cutter, Dr Guillotin.

The verb 'to bobbitt' - in common use in the American media - probably would have faded faster than the scar tissue of Mr Bobbitt's organ, now sewn back on and, by all accounts, in goodish working order. But subsequent events may force the word into the American Webster's Dictionary. The Virginia bedroom amputation of eight months ago has been repeated with disturbing frequency elsewhere. British dictionaries are taking note.

Last month in the city of Taichung, a Taiwanese wife bobbitted her husband with a pair of scissors after learning of his affairs with other women. Chien Liu-liang, 51, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment - on the face of it, harsh retribution compared with Lorena Bobbitt's fate (45 days in a mental institution).

But whereas Mrs Bobbitt flung her husband's organ through a car window, Chien Liu-liang flushed Yao Kuan-jung's down a toilet and allowed him to bleed to death.

Alcohol appears to trigger bobbitting. The Taiwanese couple had been drinking on the day of detachment, as had a Turkish victim whose case was reported last month in the newspaper Hurriyet. Abdullah Kemal Konak, a garage security guard, was 'too drunk to resist' when his lover Zeynep Atici bound his hands and feet. Earlier he had threatened to leave her for another woman. Bent on ensuring the intended relationship be forever platonic, she bobbitted him and went on the run. Mr Konak has since had a four-hour operation. Next, Lee Chu-pom was found bobbitted and dying in low temperatures outside a South Korean motel north-east of Seoul a week ago. Mr Lee, 42, was a welder. The hospital doctors who tried to restore him were not. But had they succeeded in rejoining him to his penis, he might have died anyway - from exposure. Mr Lee, whose wife has been questioned but is said to be 'not under suspicion', had drunk a bottle of soju, a local spirit, before the attack - described by the newspaper, Choun Ilbo, as 'Bobbitt Syndrome' and 'the dawn of the age of reckoning' for men in Korea's male-dominated society.

Then, Germany. Heidemarie Siebke, 51, is on trial in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder for hyphenating Hans Kampioni, 56, a suitor. First, she said she did it; then she denied it. 'I am a calm person,' she says.

Mr Kampioni disagrees. 'She went crazy and began punching me and hitting me with a chair,' he said. She then bobbitted him with a kitchen knife and set fire to his apartment. The severed penis will be in court as prosecution evidence. Mr Kampioni has since complained of memory loss, although he recalls drinking heavily before suffering his anatomical loss.

A recent article in the Washington Post about spontaneous regeneration of lost body parts says that by introducing a a certain gene a spare may be grown 'if a part of the anatonomy is bobbitted'. The Ottawa Citizen urges students to learn how to cope with 'bobbitting'. The Washington Times praises former US president George Bush for 'the bobbitting of both Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega'.

Will the word last? Peter Gilliver, associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, says: 'We are fairly passive about it. If 'bobbitt' turns up in several different stories over a period of time, this suggests it should go in the dictionary.'

The OED includes, for example, 'to bork' (after Clarence Bork, Ronald Reagan's US Supreme Court nominee who failed to make it), meaning to blackball somebody for unsound views. 'To kennedy' is also there, though listed as obsolete. It means to strike someone with a poker, a reference to an event that gained notoriety in 1823.

Asked to define 'bobbitt', Anne Seaton, of Chambers Dictionary, says: 'It's a woman's violent and vengeful removal of her partner's penis. Perhaps one might call it 'depenistration'.' Richard Thomas, of Collins Dictionary, is more cautious: 'We collect 8,000 new words a year, of which a tiny proportion gets into the dictionary. There's no point in speculating about 'bobbitt' just yet.'

After Dr Guillotin's contraption was introduced in France, the mob (traditionalists at heart) sang: 'Give us back our wooden gallows / Give us back our gallows.' But 'guillotine' adhered through frequent usage. A similar fixative may preserve 'bobbitt'.

(Photograph omitted)